Tokyo’s cherry blossoms won’t bloom before mid-March, but you can get a taste of the pink blooms from early February on the southernmost tip of the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture. The town of Minami Izu has a sakura and rapeseed blossom festival that runs from February 1 until March 10.
The pink spectacle takes place along the Aono River in the Shimogamo Onsen area and at the nearby Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana rest stop. About 800 Kawazu cherry blossom trees and plenty of yellow rape blossoms line the 4.2-km-long stretch along the Aono River. Kawazu cherry blossoms were first discovered in 1972 in Kawazu, a little town further north on the Izu Peninsula. Thanks to Izu’s warm climate, these cherry blossoms bloom earlier than any other sakura type around Japan.
Between February 1 and 28, you can enjoy rickshaw rides under the pink blooms every day from 9.30am to 4pm. A rickshaw can carry up to two people, and you can either opt for a 20-minute ride (¥2,000/person) or for a short five-minute trip (¥500/person). Note that in case of bad weather, the service will be suspended.
Make sure to stay until the evening, when the sakura between Kujobashi Bridge and Maeharabashi Bridge are beautifully lit up. Close to the roadside station Shimogamo Onsen Yu no Hana and at the Shiroganenoyu Bridge, you’ll also find illuminated sakura trees plus beautifully carved bamboo lanterns. The light-up takes place daily from 6pm to 9pm. To see the full extent of the festival area, make sure to check this map (in Japanese only) in advance.
While a visit to Minami Izu is doable in a day – it takes about three hours from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station – you can also turn it into an overnight trip. The Kyukamura Minami Izu resort hotel offers a free shuttle service exclusively for hotel guests that brings you directly to the sakura festival. The bus departs twice a day, at 9.30am and 7.45pm.
Make sure to check the festival’s official website for more information.
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